Reviews
Edited by Julian Barling, Christopher M. Barnes, Erica L. Carleton and David T. Wagner. Oxford University Press

Work and Sleep – Research Insights for the Workplace

In the workplace, sleep is a key issue that cuts both ways: how we organise work affects how well people sleep, and how well they sleep affects how well they then perform at work. This can create a vicious circle: stress causes poor sleep which then leads to inattention once the person is at work and even more stress.

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This book brings together 13 papers by more than 20 international contributors from university psychology departments and business schools. 

Part I explores the two-way relationship between work and sleep, featuring chapters on the influence of shift work on performance and the impact of sleep disorders. Part II (the longest of three) looks into sleep and work experiences, with chapters on the relationship between stress and sleep, driving, and the impact of tiredness on safety. Part III rounds the book off with two papers exploring sleep research’s implications for management and education.

Some academic books are virtually impenetrable to the lay reader, but good writing and taut editing mean that’s not the case here. It’s clear, though, from the style, layout and language that this is principally a book by academics, for academics. Its main aim is to review all current evidence and describe the “state-of-the-art” knowledge about the interplay between work and sleep, not to provide a manager’s guide. The blurb on the back cover describes it as a “must read” for managers but I doubt whether many outside the world of sleep specialists will want to read it cover to cover. You’ll certainly be disappointed if you expect it to provide practical answers to real-world questions, such as how long a large goods vehicle driver can work without a break, or what checks to make before setting someone onto night work.

This caveat aside, the book offers many research insights that should challenge us to look afresh at the issue of sleep, from both safety and health angles.

After all, falling asleep at the wheel is (after alcohol and drugs) the second biggest cause road fatalities. I was not aware that people’s average sleep time is consistently getting smaller – a trend that must impact on both accidents and ill-health.

As this book highlights, many people are seeing a breakdown of the traditional boundaries between work and leisure time. Technology is a key factor here: how many of us check our emails before we go to bed? Here the research sounds a word of warning, particularly about using mobile devices in the hour before settling down for the night. Going through the latest round of meeting invites and requests for help from colleagues is unlikely to be the best way of clearing your head before it hits the pillow. So this is recommended reading – but not at bed-time.

Oxford University Press, www.oup.com, £52 hardback

 

Paul Smith’s career spans enforcement, consultancy and the power industry. A former Health and Safety Executive inspector, he’s now a specialist writer on safety and health topics.

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